I’ve done 10 interim CEO / interim COO gigs during the last 10 years. In my view, there are four cases when hiring an interim CEO make sense:
- For The First 3 – 18 Months of a Startup: As detailed in this post (which in turn was prompted by a post from Flybridge Capital Partners venture capitalist Michael Greeley’s) there are times when hiring an interim CEO at the formation of a startup makes sense. Adding the experience of a senior, successful entrepreneur to the passion and vision of the founding entrepreneurs can increase the likelihood of the venture’s success. (This is the role I played at Ember Corporation.)
- Helping a Founding CEO: Often, later in a startup’s life, a founding CEO can use help. Rather than terminating the founder and “throwing the baby out with the bath water,” a better solution might be to bring in an interim COO to counsel the founder, and – in many cases – to actually assume some hands-on, day-to-day duties for some number of months. When the company moves to the “next level,” then the founder can again assume full control. (This is the role I played at Eink.)
- Clean Up to Attract an Industry-Specific CEO: Sometimes a company wants to hire an “industry-specific” CEO to have the venture really take off. But often an executive search firm will say that – until things are “cleaned up” – top-notch CEO candidates from the industry cannot be attracted. An interim CEO has the very clear remit of cleaning up the place for the next person. (This is the role I played at HeartSine in the UK.)
- Due Diligence for Further Investment: Often the original investors have been asked to invest further in a company that has not met plan. For a variety of reasons, the investors often want a person of their choice placed inside the company to manage this next round of investment. (This is what I was charged with doing at CR2 in Dublin, though the way I started the assignment was a bit unorthodox.)
Do these interim CEO / interim COO assignments always work out? No. Startups and turn arounds are both high-risk ventures. Some turn out well. Others do not. But in all cases I’ve worked with great people; and it was these great people – and not I – who, with a bit of guidance and leadership, took the company to the next level.